How often do you do a double take of retail email order confirmation? Before last week, my answer would have been “never.” Most of us have become numb to the automatic “do-not-reply” messages online retail customer service systems spit out.

And until last week if you had asked me whether such an easily negligible piece of a purchase process could actually represent an opportunity to gain ground on a competitor, I would have chuckled, shrugged, and shook my head “no.”

My mind has been changed. And here’s the thing: it’s been changed with a few simple message lines. Here’s what happened.

I’ve been on a mission to create the perfect mountain bike for myself, completely tailored to where and how I ride. I’m constantly tweaking things about my Santa Cruz 5010, which I purchased in January. There’s nothing off-the-shelf about it…I built it up piece by piece. My current focus is my drivetrain: I’m looking for the absolute most efficient power I can generate, from tires to chains to gears.

I wasn’t happy with my initial choice of tires, and decided to change things. I agonized for days over which tires to put on. This seems crazy, I know. But one tire was too heavy (rotating mass slows you down up a mountain), one didn’t grip the way I wanted it to (southern California trails are typically dry and loose on top, hardpack underneath, with varying degrees of rock and chunk), and neither were as durable as I wanted them to be for the price I had paid (+$75/each).

I researched every tire known to man, stalked the mountain bike “geek” forums, and settled on two different tires, front and rear being different. I looked online for the best price, since my local bike store didn’t stock them.

I found them in stock and a fantastic price at Universal Cycles, an online bicycle retailer with tens of thousands of inventory items. I had never ordered from them before, but I gave it a go. I hoped I’d made the right decision.

I received two email messages. The first was a standard order confirmation, with shipping tracking number, etc–the kind we’ve all gotten. Two minutes later (according to email timestamp) I received another. And this is the one that grabbed my attention:

“Good Afternoon Matt – thank you for ordering with Universal Cycles today. The Ardent and Ikon are two great tire options and should track well on the California trails. Please let us know if you have any questions. My name is Brad and I will be available today until 5:00 PM and Val is here until midnight.

Cheers – Brad”

Now, you might think to yourself: that’s just a templated, automatic CRS system with some artificial intelligence thrown in. Maybe, but I don’t think so. Here’s why.

First of all, I had registered my account with the name Matthew, not Matt. But my email address had matt.may. So “Brad” picked up on that.

Second, it felt like he was reading my mind, as if he knew I was nervous about whether these two tires would work on California trails. He reinforced my purchase and gave me a little peace of mind, with a single sentence.

Third, Universal Cycles is not located in California. My tires were coming from out of state, Oregon to be exact. The tires I ordered would not have worked well in the wet and rooty conditions of the Pacific Northwest. “Brad” knew this, or seemed to.

Two days ago I wanted to order a new chain ring for my bike. I had spent the weekend again agonizing over a truly substantial change to my bike, moving from a 20 gear drivetrain with two chainrings in the front and 10 gears in the back, to a single ring in front. This would greatly simplify my ride, cut my gearing in half (I wasn’t using half of the gears I had), and drop a good bit of weight off my bike, because it would allow me to remove my front ring shifting system, which accounts for nearly a full pound.

This modification is called “converting a 2X10 to 1X10.” The risk I was taking in this conversion was whether my chain would stay on correctly, because I’d be removing my front derailleur, the mechanism that both shifts the front rings and maintains a proper chain line, avoiding a dropped chain. Dropping or “derailing” a chain when riding can really mess you up.

Guess where I went to order the part? Not a second thought…straight to Universal Cycles. Again, great price, in stock, exactly what I wanted. Easy peasy lemon squeezy.

I halfway expected to get another email from “Brad” with some cut-and-paste messaging. Instead, four minutes after my standard order confirmation, I got this:

“Hi Matthew,

Thanks for your new order with us. Race Face’s Narrow Wide is an amazing ring and when set up right really does reduce chain derailment. If you have any questions or need anything else my name is Drew and I am here until 12:20 PST today. We also are available until midnight this evening if you need us. You can call, live chat, e-mail, or text us.


Completely different in nearly every way, except the attention to detail and ability to confirm my worries in a single sentence. I hadn’t asked about proper setup or chain derailment. But it was on my mind.

You have to know your customers pretty darn well in order to send this kind of message for tens of thousands of products. You have to know your product line…in both cases, the standard OEM product label was not used; the everyman user’s terminology and shorthand was used.

Universal Cycles has differentiated itself with a discriminating customer (me!) and won me over. I won’t be Googling parts and prices anymore. I’ll be going straight to Universal.

That’s the power of a well-thought detail.

What opportunities exist in your business to win over a customer segment with simple, well-placed, knowledgeable, intelligent, innovative detail?